In Switzerland, accessing welfare can put foreigners’ residence permits at risk. A recent parliamentary initiative may change this for some.
Practice on who qualifies for welfare varies from canton to canton and the subject is somewhat of a minefield. There are often rules around family members helping before state welfare kicks in and also rules around repaying money received if the recipient comes into money later via a lottery win or inheritance.
Residents from EU/EFTA nations have much the same rights as Swiss nationals. However, foreign residents of most other nations run a high risk of forfeiting their residence permits if they take welfare in Switzerland.
And the rules are not binary. For example, current federal case law suggests that a couple would put their C-permits at risk if they received more than CHF 50,000 in welfare over a two year period. A study on the subject can be viewed here in French.
On 28 May 2021, a parliamentary commission vote in Bern narrowly (12 versus 11 with 2 abstentions) came out in favour of looking at the possibility of extending welfare rights to all foreigner who have lived legally in Switzerland for more than 10 years.
Because foreigners know the risk losing there rights to remain if they take welfare, many avoid requesting help when they need it and the coronavirus crisis has made this situation worse, said Samira Marti, the member of parliament and member of the socialist party in Basel who proposed the initiative. Poverty is not a crime, she added.
The next step in the process will be to convince a commission for the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house.